One of Rome’s famed Seven Hills, the Quirinal Hill (Colle Quirinale, in Italian) is both the northernmost and tallest of these. It’s situated adjacent to the Esquiline and Viminal Hills. It stands at 61 meters (just over 200 feet) tall, and historically its slopes were steep and therefore made the summit hard to access. The Quirinal Hill was therefore seen as an important strategic location, and has long been fortified with defenses.
Today, the Quirinal Hill remains a fascinating part of the city, with lots of interesting attractions, and while it is right in the heart of Rome, close to popular attractions such as Trevi Fountain, it doesn’t get a fraction of the tourists, meaning it’s actually a place where you can get away from the crowds in a few mere steps.
Curious to find out more? Just continue reading as I share everything you need to know.
Make sure to also read my post Which Are The Seven Hills Of Rome?
The History Of The Quirinal Hill
The history of the Quirinal Hill begins not with Romans but with the Sabines, who had a small settlement located here. Following peace between the Romans and the Sabines, this was where the mythical King Titus was said to have resided.
The name of the Quirinal Hill – Colle Quirinale – comes from this time, as the Sabines are believed to have built temples and altars to their god Quirinus — a Sabine god of war — thus giving the hill its name. Quirinus then became part of the early Roman belief system.
King Titus was, according to tradition, the king of the Sabines. Evidence has actually been uncovered on the hill itself that points to this, with tombs of the Sabines found that date between the 8th and 7th century BC.
Centuries later the Roman politician and multiple-time consul, Lucius Papirius Cursor (365-310 BC), turned the temple to Quirinus into a temple of triumph to mark Roman victory in the Third Samnite War. Some people believe that there were various other temples to other Roman deities on the hill, such as temples and shrines to Juno and Minerva.
Roman historian Livy said that the Quirinal Hill was incorporated into the city of Rome at the same time as the Viminal Hill, namely during the reign of Rome’s legendary sixth king, Servius Tullius, in the 6th century BC. It was later enclosed within the Servian Walls, which were constructed in the 4th century BC.
Some of the more prominent Roman temples that were built on the Quirinal Hill include the Temple of Sancus. Sancus, the god of trust, was the focus of an ancient Roman cult, and this temple dedicated to the deity was built in 446 BC — probably on the site of an even older temple.
It’s thought that Sancus aligned with Sabus, a hero of the Sabine people to whom he gave their name. Much later, there was also a temple dedicated to Mars, which was constructed on the orders of Augustus (27 BC to 14 AD).
Further construction on this northernmost Roman hill took place in the 1st century BC in the form of the Gardens of Sallust, which were situated on the slopes of the hill. This large, landscaped garden was the work of a Roman historian named Sallust; they are located on land that originally belonged to Julius Caesar himself.
When the new Aurelian Wall was built in the 3rd century AD, it altered the size of the city and meant that Quirinal Hill was no longer on the very outskirts. The area, therefore, became a popular place to live for high-class Roman citizens, with many aristocrats building their family homes on the hill.
Centuries later, Constantine I decided to build his baths — named the Baths of Constantine — on the hill in the early 4th century AD. They were to be the last of their kind built in Imperial Rome. The baths were almost entirely lost during the Renaissance-era development of the city, particularly when Palazzo Rospigliosi was built. Parts of the baths were found centuries later, with some portions able to be glimpsed under the Casino dell’Aurora.
During the 15th and 16th centuries, the Quirinal Hill was busy with a number of aristocratic homes, towers — notably the Torre delle Milizie — and churches. Many of the city’s ancient buildings were repurposed into this flurry of new (at the time) construction. The main thoroughfare that runs through the hill was then known as the Via Alta Semita, but is now called the Via Quirinale; it saw a number of properties spring up alongside it as the hill became once again a fashionable place to live.
One of these was the villa of Cardinal Oliverio Carafa. It’s here in the villa’s former vineyard where the later Quirinal Palace – Palazzo del Quirinale in Italian – was built. But it changed a lot before it became the building it is today. The gardens at the cardinal’s villa were redesigned by Ippolito d’Este, who was in charge of the Villa d’Este in Tivoli, reimagining the vineyards to create fountains and all manner of Mannerist sculptures.
The villa then fell into the hands of Pope Gregory XIII (who reigned 1572-85). Its lavish vineyard influenced the pope to have the villa similarly expanded in 1583. Following his death, it then turned into the summer residence for later popes — firstly, by Pope Sixtus V, who bought the villa from the Carafa family.
It was under Pope Paul V, who was pontiff from 1605 to 1621, that the villa was finally transformed into a shape recognizable as the Quirinal Palace of the present day.
The Quirinal Palace has continued to dominate the landscape of the hill since this time. During the mid-17th century, teams of painters and artists were drafted in to create stuccos and frescoes in its Royal Hall; a wall was built around the perimeter; and there were even defensive towers added.
During the Napoleonic period, Quirinal Hill underwent another massive change. In 1809 Napoleon’s troops overtook Rome, deporting Pope Pius VII to France. Napoleon’s government chose the Quirinal Palace to be the emperor’s palace in Rome. Changes were quickly carried out to make it fit for Napoleon, with neoclassical additions such as sculptures.
The pope was finally able to return to Rome to take up his seat in Quirinal Palace in 1814. It was at this time that the iconic Fountain of the Dioscuri was finalized.
During the final stages of the Unification of Italy, Rome was successfully annexed in 1870 to the newly created Kingdom of Italy. In 1871, Quirinal Palace became the residence of the Royal Family, while after the monarchy was abolished, it became the residence of the President of Italy.
Places To Visit On Rome’s Colle Quirinale
Palazzo del Quirinale
With its complex history that has seen a variety of high-profile leaders come and go, the Quirinal Palace has been a place of power for many centuries. Quirinal Palace has played an important role in several turning points throughout Italian history. The interior of the palace is beautiful, with frescoes, gilded ceilings and many works of art on display.
Even though the Palazzo del Quirinale is the official residence (one of three, in fact) of the President of Italy, it is actually possible to visit on a tour. This enables you to see inside a piece of Rome’s noble history as well as that of modern democracy. If you do want to go on a tour, it is mandatory to book in advance via the official website of the Palazzo del Quirinale.
Otherwise, you can just marvel at the building from the outside — free of charge. If you visit on a Sunday (or a feast day), either at 4:00 pm or 6:00 pm (depending on whether it’s winter or summer), you can see the changing of the guard. This is also free, and it’s interesting to see the military pageantry of it all; it lasts around 20 minutes.
Piazza del Quirinale
Outside Quirinal Palace is Piazza del Quirinale. As well as being one of Rome’s most elegant squares, it also has a number of impressive monuments to its name. If you visit, make sure to take some time exploring the sights within the piazza itself (such as the obelisk, for example).
But also don’t miss out on the terrace, Terrazza del Quirinale, where you can catch a great view out over the rooftops of Rome towards the St Peter’s Basilica. Complete with benches, this terrace makes for a great spot to soak up a sunset in the city too.
Don’t forget to also read my post The Most Beautiful Piazzas In Rome.
The obelisk situated in Piazza del Quirinale is ancient. Though not as ancient as some of the genuine Egyptian obelisks in Rome, it still dates back to the 1st century AD, when it was created as part of a pair that once stood either side of the entrance to the Mausoleum of Augustus.
These fell into disrepair following the flooding of the Tiber, which resulted in the obelisks falling into the silt. The Quirinale Obelisk was found in 1527, but was in three pieces, so it was left there. In 1781 it was again re-discovered and resurrected in its current position in 1786. The other obelisk stands on the Esquiline Hill.
Don’t forget to read my post 18 Must See Obelisks Of Rome.
Though popularly known as the “Horse Tamers”, these statues of mythological characters Castor and Pollux (aka the Dioscuri) make up a recognizable landmark in the Piazza del Quirinale. They’re believed to be copies of Greek originals that would have dated to the 5th century BC.
Each standing at 18 feet (5.4 meters) tall, and each leading an equally giant horse, they were originally built for decoration at the Baths of Constantine. However, some believe they originally came from the Temple of Serapis and were moved to the baths after construction work following an earthquake in 443 AD.
The ancient statues were moved to the piazza on the Colle Quirinale by Pope Sixtus V, who ordered them to be fully restored in 1585. Here they stood as part of a fountain; the original fountain is no longer here, due to it being replaced by Pope Pius VII in 1818 with a granite basin (this itself was taken from the Roman Forum).
You should also read my post 30 Statues In Rome You Should See.
Palazzo della Consulta
Also overlooking Piazza del Quirinale, the Palazzo della Consulta may not be as well known as the Palazzo del Quirinale but it isn’t any less impressive. Commissioned by Clement XII, the palace as it appears today was completed in 1737. It was the seat of the Sacred Congregation of the Consulta, which was a special commission set up by Pope Paul IV in 1559.
Palazzo della Consulta is now where the Constitutional Court of Italy is located. The work of Florentine architect Ferdinando Fuga, it’s a suitably impressive structure, but visitors today can only admire its ornate Baroque facade from outside.
Called the Scuderie del Quirinale, the Quirinal Stables once served as the stables for the Quirinal Palace. Built between 1722 and 1732, it had a long period of use, only ceasing to serve as a place for horses and carriages in 1938.
The eye-catching structure was restored in 1997 and is now an art gallery with a number of rotating exhibitions taking place here throughout the year, from Japanese wood-block prints to Renaissance masterpieces. If you’re looking for a lovely view of the Rome skyline, head to the top floor and enjoy.
For information on visiting the Scuderie del Quirinale, check their official website here.
Church of San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane
The exquisitely opulent Church of San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane was constructed as part of a monastic complex for the Trinitarians (a Spanish Catholic order). This masterpiece of a building was the work of none other than Francesco Borromini and was, in fact, his first self-made commission.
Borromini didn’t make any money from this project, as he wanted to use it as a springboard to kickstart his career in his own name (before this he was working under Cardinal Barberini).
The most interesting thing about the church is its very neo-classical design, which most impressively features an undulating, concave facade, and uses Corinthian columns to dictate the design. Split across two stories, the intriguing facade is intricately adorned with niches and sculptures, and features an oval supported by angels at its peak. Construction began in 1638.
Inside, the ornate detailing continues, with Borromini leaning into a complex and very unusual use of curves and irregular shapes. Everything feels very unexpected when you first step inside — even the walls appear fluid, rather than solid. Look up and the oval dome is sure to leave an impression.
You should also read my post The Must-See Churches In Rome.
The Four Fountains (Quattro Fontane)
Just outside the Church of San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, on the intersection of the Via delle Quattro Fontane and Via del Quirinale, are the Quattro Fontane themselves. These “Four Fountains” were commissioned by Pope Sixtus V, with construction beginning in 1538 to the designs of Muzio Mattei.
Each of the four fountains, created in Late Renaissance style, represent different aspects of the Roman world, both mythological and natural. Two represent rivers — the River Tiber and the River Arno, respectively — while the other two represent the deities Juno and Diana. The fountains are dotted with various symbols that represent Rome.
Make sure to also read my post The Most Beautiful And Famous Fountains In Rome.
Sant’Andrea al Quirinale Church
Another important church on Colle Quirinale is Sant’Andrea al Quirinale church. Designed by Gianlorenzo Bernini, the Jesuit church was completed in 1670 with the approval of Pope Alexander VII. Set on an oval design, and enclosed by curved walls, Bernini believed that this church was one of his best works. Cherubs on the ceiling and heavenly paintings exude a sense of grandeur in the interior.
Later, his son Domenico would say that the artist would spend much of his time sitting inside this particular church, sitting in the beautiful space created by his work. One claim to fame of this church is its being where the first act of La Tosca is set.
The Tower of the Winds
One of the most interesting sights on the Quirinal Hill is the Tower of the Winds, which was built between 1578 and 1580 by architect Ottaviano Mascherino, who came from Bologna – he’s the same architect who also designed the Apostolic Palace.
The Tower was built as an astronomical observatory, specifically the room known as the Meridian Hall (named after the meridian that runs through its floor) had the purpose of studying Pope’s Gregory XIII new calendar. The building has two main floors and a mezzanine. The rooms are decorated with nice frescoes representing scenes of the Old and New Testaments, painted by Flemish artists Paul and Matthijs Bril.
Interestingly, the Meridian Hall was also the room where Queen Christina of Sweden lived once she converted to Catholicism, whereas the second room was often used to accommodate cardinal librarians such as Cardinal Cesare Baronio.
How To Get To The Colle Quirinale
Getting to the Quirinal Hill is quite simple from anywhere in the historic center of Rome. Big-hitter Rome sights such as the Trevi Fountain and Piazza Venezia are just a stone’s throw from here, meaning you can quite easily incorporate a visit during an exploration of the Centro Storico.
Rome Termini is fairly close to the Quirinal Hill, too. For example, it’s just a ten-minute taxi ride from the transport hub to the hill. But if you don’t want to take any type of transport, you could actually walk here from Rome Termini; this takes around half an hour.
Even if you’re staying in Trastevere, you could be on the Colle Quirinale in a matter of around 40 minutes or so by foot.